Sociology Index


Strain theory is concept central to a functionalist approach or to systems theory, both of which assume that society is like an organism or mechanical system. This system is sustained by harmony and integration. However, if something begins to go wrong this is a sign of a fault in the system, or of social strain. The system has to find ways to adapt to this social strain or correct it or it will lead to the transformation of the system. Robert Merton's theory of crime (anomie) is an example of strain theory. He claims that there is often a social strain between the culturally defined goals we all strive for and the legitimate means provided for us to achieve those goals.

Agnew's general strain theory (GST): two fundamental questions about gender and crime:

(1) How can we explain the higher rate of crime among males?

(2) How can we explain why females engage in crime?

With respect to the first question, gender differences in types of strain and the reaction to strain help one understand the gender gap in criminal behavior. With respect to the second question, it is argued that several types of social strain may lead to female crime under the proper circumstances. General strain theory has much in common with numerous accounts that explain female crime in terms of oppression. - Gender and Crime: A General Strain Theory Perspective, LISA BROIDY, ROBERT AGNEW.

Building on the Foundation of General Strain Theory: Specifying the Types of Strain Most Likely to Lead to Crime and Delinquency - ROBERT AGNEW.
General strain theory (GST) is usually tested by examining the effect of strain on crime. Researchers, however, have little guidance when it comes to selecting among the many hundreds of types of strain and have trouble explaining why only some of them are related to crime. This article builds on general strain theory by describing the characteristics of strainful events and conditions that influence their relationship to crime. Strains are said to be most likely to result in crime when they (1) are seen as unjust, (2) are seen as high in magnitude, (3) are associated with low social control, and (4) create some pressure or incentive to engage in criminal coping. Drawing on these characteristics, it is predicted that some types of social strain will not be related to crime, including types that have dominated the research on strain theory, and that others will be related to crime, including types that have been neglected by empirical researchers.

Classic Strain Theory and Gender - The Case of Turkey, Middle East Technical University. 
A test of classic strain theory on gender in relation to assault, school delinquency, and public disturbance is investigated in high schools in Ankara, the capital of Turkey. The findings show that various strain and class measures do not appear to be associated consistently with delinquency and gender, except for perceived blocked opportunity for females. The effects of strain and class variables on delinquent acts are similar for both genders, except for the middle social class of males. The most striking finding is that social class is associated positively with juvenile delinquency: Lower-class youth are less likely to commit assault, school delinquency, and public disturbance.

Life Strain, Negative Emotions, and Delinquency: An Empirical Test of General Strain Theory in the People’s Republic of China - Wan-Ning Bao, Ain Haas, Department of Sociology Indiana University - Purdue University, Indiana.
Yijun Pi, Chinese Society of Criminology China University of Politics and Law.
Using a sample of 615 middle school and high school students from both rural and urban areas of the People's Republic of China, this study tests the central hypotheses concerning the mediating model in Agnew's general strain theory. Analyses focus on the intervening mechanisms of negative emotions such as anger, resentment, anxiety, and depression that connect exposure to interpersonal strain with delinquent outcomes, including both serious delinquency and minor offenses. Results show anger mediates the effect of interpersonal strain on violence, resentment mediates the effect of interpersonal strain on nonviolent delinquency, and anxiety and depression have a mediating effect on the relationships between interpersonal strain and minor offenses.

Public School Vandalism - Some Revised Strain Theory Perspectives 
Clarence Tygart, California State University, Fullerton 
Incidence of school vandalism is related to school level, SES, student test scores, and school track, and is explained by strain theory.

Examining the Links between Strain, Situational and Dispositional Anger, and Crime
Further Specifying and Testing General Strain Theory.
Paul Mazerolle, University of Queensland, Alex R. Piquero, University of Florida, George E. Capowich, Loyola University.
Past research testing General Strain Theory has relied on trait-based, static indicators of anger, assuming that anger people develop angry emotional states when exposed to strain. Here, the authors explore whether the relationship between strain, anger, and deviant behavior outcomes varies as a function of whether trait-based or situational-based measures of anger are used. They examine whether individuals with high levels of trait anger have an increased likelihood of experiencing strain, becoming angry due to strain, and responding with deviance. The results reveal that relying on trait-based static indicators of anger is problematic. The findings demonstrate that the relationship between anger and deviant outcomes is attenuated when trait-based measures of anger are used. Moreover, results also reveal that trait anger increases deviant outcomes independent of the effects of strain or situational anger, which suggests that different mechanisms are operating.

Criminology is in need of conceptual revival, and behavior genetics can provide the concepts and research design to accomplish this. Behavior genetics is a biologically-friendly environmental discipline that often tells us more about environmental effects on individual traits than about genetic effects. Anomie / strain theory is used to illustrate the usefulness of behavior genetics to criminological theories. Behavior genetics examines the individual differences that sort people into different modes of adaptation and that lead them to cope constructively or destructively with strain. Behavior genetics and other biosocial perspectives have the potential to help illuminate Agnew's (1997) extension of General Strain Theory (GST) into the developmental realm.

Strain, Social Support, and Retreatism Among African Americans.
Sung Joon Jang, Louisiana State University, Jason A. Lyons, University of Miami.
This study tests Agnew's general strain theory for African Americans, a population neglected in general strain theory research. Specifically, we examined (a) the differential effects of inner-and outer-directed negative emotions on withdrawing behavior and (b) the conditioning effects of social support on the understudied, deviant coping behavior. OLS regression analyses of data from a national survey of African American adults provide empirical evidence that depression and anxiety have larger effects on withdrawing behavior than anger. Findings also provide some support for the hypothesis that social support tends to weaken or buffer the effects of nonangry emotions on withdrawing behavior.